Tickle Your Imagination

While I should be thriving because my latest architectural project is featured in the April editions of both Mark and Domus, I must say that on this occasion I’m particularly thrilled because, just as I was musing on terrifying beauty, the Tickle Your Catastrophe book was indeed making its way onto my doorstep.

It’s not that I don’t see the first as relevant. I do. Especially when, in the case of Domus, we are looking forward to a new phase in the history of a key architectural magazine. And as I am increasingly interested in the building act as a catalyst for the proliferation of cultural, if not political meaning,  publication in a highly legitimated media certainly plays an important role in the process.

GMG House in the new Domus, now edited by Joseph Grima.

However, I’m progressively more interested in the expression of thought, and critical thought at that, whenever possible and adequate, either through design or discourse. So, at this instance, while my ego should be mostly flattered by my subversive and furtive interiors being made public, I’m even more proud to be part of Tickle Your Catastrophe with an essay you can partially preview here.

As the traditional publishing world seems to be quickly whirling down the e-toilet, Tickle Your Catastrophe may well be a good example of a disappearing kind: a sexy scientific publication that caters for an audience outside academia…

This is a reader of laboriously edited texts that extend well beyond their varied academic origins – and the 2009 conference that set off the publication – so as to become a many-sided, prescient, and wholly perspective on the darker shades of realities currently lurking on a corner near you.

With chapters on ruin value, states of emergency, media disasters and worst-case scenarios, this is a true survivor’s manual on everything you should know about calamity and forgot to ask both Wild Bill Hickok and Doctor Strangelove.

And while haunted by some of the usual phantoms of contemporary academic writing – from Benjamin to Deleuze, Sebald and Žižek – it must be said that this collection on the imagining of catastrophe in art, architecture and philosophy is also aptly trespassed by the futuristic ghosts of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, or even by the eerie reminiscences of traumatic events like the Chernobyl disaster and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake, as connected to Voltaire’s Candide

With such condiments, Tickle Your Catastrophe becomes the kind of atypical book where theory displays one of its best, frequently overlooked attributes, one that brings it close to speculative fiction: its almost magical ability to dive into the future while intently looking at the mirror of the present and the past.

And that’s why one of the most troubling moments in the book – besides Lieven de Cauter’s chilling views on The Mad Max Phase of Globalization – eventually emerges in a poignant accidental postscript in which Susan Schuppli recalls how a reading of her Chernobyl essay in Tokyo was disturbed by an earthquake that affected a Japanese nuclear plant “involuntarily” built on a seismic fault…

Experiencing the tremors of this radiological activity directly as it was unfolding, standing as I was amidst the quake, signaled the uncanny entanglement between the conceptual research and the literal ontological ground upon which these ideas momentarily trembled. It was as if the actions of the future, my research yet-to-come, had colluded with the past, Chernobyl, to make the present shaky and thus a source of renewable creative energy for the future. As William Gibson has frequently remarked, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Little did Susan know that Fukushima was to take place some four years later, close to where she first established these mental connections, more or less at the same time those very words were being printed onto posterity.

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